Androids will procrastinate at light speed
It seems every futurist and his soon-to-be cybernetically enhanced cousin has an idea about when computers will become as smart as people, when they'll attain self-awareness, when they'll develop an opinion about the Tom Cruise/Katie Holmes relationship, etc., etc., etc.
Some say this breakthrough is a century away. Still others who tend to listen to AM radio at 3 a.m. are convinced their old Commodore 64 is already controlling the weather.
But experts and laymen alike seem ill-equipped to predict when computer chips will be on par with humanoid synapses. Even armed with an Excel spreadsheet and a Magic 8-Ball, you're still not even halfway there.
Plus, whenever we get close to a date certain, Arnold Schwarzenegger always seems to travel back in time to save John Connor from Skynet and pushes the whole thing back six or seven years.
ZDnet.com reports that artificial-intelligence (AI) expert Ray Kurzweil foresees $1 computers as powerful as the human brain by 2030, which can only mean a national franchise of Every Brain's a Dollar stores choking strip malls by 2031.
But Digital Slobs have some old-world apprehensions about this Brave New World.
I'm comfortable with computers smart enough to perform billions of calculations per second -- but I don't want them smart enough to trick me into doing the work instead.
Ask any queen bee and she'll tell you about the many productivity benefits of mindless drones. Mother Nature has rigged the system so you don't have to be Einstein to make a good batch of honey.
Thus, in evolutionary terms, laziness is a very high-minded development. After all, you have to first be aware of the concept of a tomorrow in order to put something off until then. This is why so many people with Ph.Ds have three bags of unopened Bic shavers in the bathroom and beards down to their ankles.
But artful deception, the ability to fool yourself and others, is far too powerful a skill to farm out to silicon-based life forms without pausing to do a little in-house, carbon-based thinking about it first.
It was one thing when IBM's Deep Blue beat world renowned chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov in 1997 in New York, but imagine another supercomputer so smart it could trick him into buying extra insurance on his rental car while en route to the match.
Though we have some time before AI passes the historic threshold of Hertz Airport Employee of the Month, computers have already proven they can drive to the terminal without asking for directions.
Earlier this month a robotic Volkswagen won the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's $2 million Grand Challenge race, making a completely autonomous, 131-mile trek across the Nevada desert in just under seven hours.
Future robotic-vehicle upgrades are sure to post even faster times speeding through Nevada. But soon after that, AI racers might actually slow down, becoming so advanced they decide to detour in mid-stride for a side trip to Hoover Dam or a Celine Dion concert.
Futurist Kurzweil foresees humans merging with technology, with the beginnings of immortal non-biological life a scant 15 years away.
Let's just hope that what's left of the human race doesn't get stuck making all the honey.